Hawai'i 2.0, Day 11: "Today We Were Kidnapped by Hill Folk, Never to be Seen Again. It Was the Best Day Ever."

Our last full day in Hawai'i begins with the sun bright and the sky cloud-free... and with no cruise ship. Yay for the sun, at least.

We don't have a plan for the day, so we're just going to relax and do what comes to mind. We opt for the breakfast buffet at Don's (the restaurant, not the mai tai bar.) It's purely average fare, with powdered eggs and country potatoes; not even bacon or Spam as a protein, although they do offer miso soup for the Asian crowd... but at least they overcharge us. Even the coffee tastes a little off, which is a terrible thing to do to 100% Kona. Ah, well... that's why we don't eat  here on a regular basis; Don's mai tai bar menu is actually cheaper, tastier, and not as pretentious as Don's sit-down restaurant menu (though they do make more profits in tropical drinks when we go there.) However, as we sit there eating our food near the water, Lucie looks over and sees our very first green turtle in the water below us, poking its head out of the water occasionally as it eats its own breakfast. We say hi to the honu, briefly regret the fact that we don't have our cameras (OR either of our iPhones) with us, and enjoy the rest of our meal with a better appreciation for the outdoor dining experience.

After breakfast, we do a little bit of packing for the trip home... and by that, I mean we figure out what we won't be able to fit in our suitcases without them being overweight (which is a considerable amount) and pack it into boxes to ship home from the UPS Store in town. Goodies for Lucie's family to Fresno, goodies for my co-workers to me at work, more goodies to the Nacordas in Georgia, coffee to my Watsu therapist, and our swim fins and other snorkel gear to our apartment. We're still not sure everything will fit, but at least we've got a better chance now.

From the UPS Store, we head back down the Mamalahoa highway for the last time this trip. Packing actually took a bit longer than we'd thought, and it's almost time for lunch; Lucie and I have seen this Mexican place called Adriana's every time we pass through the town of Captain Cook, and it's gotten decent reviews on Yelp. What better place to try a new Mexican eatery than the Big Island of Hawai'i?

The quesadilla is a simple and uninspired cheddar and tortilla number, what I used to make when I was a teenager before I discovered garlic powder. The free chips they give us are clearly out of a bag, and I strongly suspect that the accompanying refried beans have recently been spanked out of a tin can. However, the chile verde burritos are good -- really good. Spicy, fresh, tender, very slightly bitter, very very meaty, and HUGE. Couldn't fit it in our trunk huge. Would have to ship leftovers back through the UPS Store huge. Couldn't get it to bite if we were on the Camelot burritofishing using sliced jalapeños as bait huge. We do what we can to pick apart our burritos and just eat the tender chunks of pork, and agree that had we known how big they were we would have split one.

We sit for a while, drinking the huge bottles of cold water we ordered with lunch, and make plans for the rest of the day. I mention that there are a couple more coffee places I've been wanting to visit just for the names, but that we haven't for various reason -- Sacred Grounds has been closed every time we drive by, and Kona Lisa is way off the beaten path; at the intersection of two different roads we've never heard of and aren't on the main Coffee Tour map. Lucie agrees, so we drive further down the Mamalahoa to Sacred Grounds... and they're closed AGAIN. By my count, that's five or six different times we've come by this place and they've been closed every time. Okay, their loss. I look up Kona Lisa Coffee's location on their website using my iPhone, and I ask Lucie to use her iPhone's GPS app and guide us there by way of Google Maps.

This is a very acceptable and helpful use of technology, and anywhere other than the Big Island it would have worked. The directions it gives us even look right -- take Middle Ke'ei Road off the Mamalahoa highway and drive down the winding road until you get to Painted Church Road. Simple enough... until you take into account the fact that road intersections off the Mamalahoa are few and far between and not always clearly marked, and that our actual location is approximately a quarter mile off and 30 seconds behind where the GPS coordinates show us to be. Hey, that's no problem; we should be able to find our way even with those tiny little challenges. It's the Big Island; how lost could we get?

The answer is: a lot. The directions take us to an unmarked driveway near the Royal Kona coffee plantation we visited a few days ago; it sure looks like a private drive, but a hundred feet or so in, it starts to widen out, and looks like a real road. We relax a little, and continue following the green line on Lucie's phone.

The road turns a sharp right, and turns into... an empty and unkempt parking lot behind Royal Kona. We stop, and I have Lucie swap out her iPhone with my iPhone's compass app combined with the Google Maps directions; they indicate we should go the far right end of the parking lot, where we do in fact see a previously hidden driveway, and to turn left. Lo and behold, there's a road going to the left... sort of. It's actually more of a dirt road consisting of two worn strips for car tires, and weeds and grass growing everywhere else. Heck, the ATV paths along Waipio Valley are more clearly defined, but it's where the iPhone is telling us to go. We try to relax a little, and continue following the green line on my iPhone.

The "road" goes straight for a few hundred feet, then turns right again, down a steep and narrow path, large rocks jutting out of the dirt and overgrown trees and bushes encroaching on the roadway. I stop the car (there's no place to turn around) and take a closer look at the iPhone; sure enough, there's us, the blue dot, and we're right on the green path that says "Middle Ke'ei Road" and the compass is pointing the right way, and it says we should drive down the hill and we're on the right path. We pretend to relax a tiny bit, and cautiously continue to follow the green line on my iPhone.

At the bottom of the hill, the ever-narrowing "road" takes us past some coffee trees. I take this as a good sign, and continue to follow the green line.

After the coffee trees, just when I start realizing that we don't hear the traffic from the Mamalahoa highway any more, and I start thinking that maybe I put a little too much faith in technology this time, and Lucie and I are both looking around waiting to be kidnapped and taken hostage by Hawaiian hillbillies, and just as I start to imagine hearing dueling ukeleles playing, the road straightens out and turns into... someone's personal "driveway", with an old and worn down and probably haunted house sitting along in a small clearing, and with no sign at all of life or anywhere else to go. I make a hair-raising nineteen point turn in the narrow confines as my inner soundtrack speeds up the dueling ukeleles, and I get us the hell out of there. I'm concerned that the poor rental car won't make it back up the hill, but I think it's actually as scared as we are, and it gets us to safety. Lucie and I nervously look at each other, unsure of just how close we were to becoming the protagonists in a horror movie, and try to figure out where to go from here.

Sadly, as scared as I am from our small mishap, I still want to find this place... it's more a matter of principle than anything else at this point. We agree to drive just a little bit down the highway and see if there's anything; otherwise, we'll head back to Kailua-Kona and figure out something else to do. It's a reasonable compromise, so off we go.

About a quarter mile down the highway, we see a prominently displayed sign for Middle Ke'ei Road, followed by a well-paved road complete with double yellow striping. Lucie loves me so much she doesn't even say anything as I take the exit, make a sharp right, then drive a little way before following the road as it turns sharply to the left, goes straight for a few hundred feet, then turns right again... basically, exactly the same route the iPhone told me to take, only starting from the correct location. Apparently, this is important when you're driving somewhere... so today I learned something new. And Learning is half the battle. The More You Know.

Anyway, we eventually find ourselves at a small driveway  leading to the Kona Lisa Coffee Farm, a small mom and pop place run by an older married couple (and actual mom and pop, coincidentally enough.) Mary, the mom in the arrangement, comes out of the house and greets us as we find a parking place in the driveway area. It's not a large coffee plantation like Mountain Thunder; it's not even a small plantation with a gift shop like Hula Daddy; it's a residence sitting in a six-acre property where Mary and her husband Ron grow coffee, bananas, papayas, Hawaiian sweet limes, macadamia nuts, passionfruit, and mangoes. And apparently tuxedo tabby cats, as there are a couple of them lying around; one of them, Mona, follows us around as Mary takes us on a short tour of the place. We see the small drying floor they have for the cleaned beans; we see the flowering coffee trees and the pile of macadamia nuts stored for selling at the local farmer's market; we have a seat on the house's shaded front porch and have a great conversation with Mary as we talk about our mutual appreciation for good coffee, their history of falling in love with this farm (actually named Cornerstone Farms) several years ago and deciding to buy  the place and retire here, her passionate fight to keep Kona coffee a viable crop for independent farmers, about a dozen different things that I can't even remember any more but which were fascinating at the time. She's a genuinely good person, open and friendly and honest, and we like her a lot. Mona hops up on the bench we're sitting on and makes herself comfortable. I find us talking like we're old friends over coffee, instead of vendor and customer talking about buying coffee, but I'm not even sure how blurred the line is; I think we're both customer and friends even though we just met and she doesn't even know our names.

It's a great conversation, and I gladly buy several bags of Kona Lisa coffee as we somewhat reluctantly get up to leave. I mention that we also wanted to stop by Sacred Grounds but they've been closed, and she tells us they had one of their machines catch fire earlier this year and burn down half the processing house, and have shut down until they can recover financially (if they can recover.) Another mystery solved.

We make one more stop on our way back home at Kona Coast macadamia farm, where we buy (surprise!) goodies for us and for folks back home -- the dry roasted macadamia nuts with cayenne pepper are quite good -- and we head back to our hotel. We spend the last hour before sunset alternately swimming in the hotel pool and relaxing in nearby lounge chairs, being waited on by Halley's Waitress (we see her once when we order piña coladas, and then she doesn't come back for decades.) We watch the sunset, order burgers from the mai tai bar to have for dinner in our room, and head back upstairs for the night.

It's our last full day in Hawai'i... we had some mediocre food and some great food, we had one of my favorite coffee plantation visits ever, we got lost and drove through heavy underbrush in a rental car, and we relaxed and watched another beautiful Hawaiian sunset. It's a good day, with all four of the main ingredients: food, caffeine, thrill, and lazy.

Coffee consumption: coffee with breakfast, and a cup of coffee at Kona Lisa.


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